Senators pushing legislation to cap insulin costs

By: - March 4, 2022 5:30 am

U.S. first lady Jill Biden reaches out to 13-year-old diabetes patient and advocate Joshua Davis of Midlothian, Virginia as U.S. President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress in the U.S. Capitol’s House Chamber March 01, 2022. (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein-Pool/Getty Images)

With the Build Back Better bill, which included provisions to rein in prescription drug prices, stalled in the Senate, Democratic lawmakers are hoping a part of the legislation capping insulin costs can be passed on its own.

Nevada Democratic  Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen announced Thursday they are supporting the Affordable Insulin Now Act, introduced in February by fellow Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock of Georgia  and Michael Bennet of Colorado, which would limit out-of-pocket costs for the life-saving medication at $35 per month. 

More than 10% of Nevadans, about 254,570 people, have diabetes, the Nevada senators said in a joint statement Thursday.

People living with diabetes are estimated to spend around $6,000 a year on insulin alone. 

Rosen said by capping costs “Nevadans do not have to choose between taking their medication and paying rent or putting food on the table.”  

“More than 250,000 Nevadans depend on insulin for their health, but the sky-high cost of this life-saving medication creates an enormous financial burden,” she said. “With so many hardworking families struggling to make ends meet and getting squeezed by higher costs, I’m working to lower prescription drug prices and provide some relief.” 

Last summer when Democratic lawmakers laid out proposed investments in climate policy and social spending, a package that was estimated to cost $3.5 trillion over a decade, they included efforts to address the high costs of prescription drugs, a long-time priority of Democrats. 

The proposal, opposed by all 50 Republican Senators, faced an uphill battle and Democrats were planning to use a procedure known as reconciliation to shield the legislation from a filibuster. 

In an attempt to appease Democratic U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona, who bemoaned the size of the package, President Joe Biden scaled back the proposal to nearly $2 trillion over ten years – the prescription drug components were almost stripped out, but then added back following pushback from congressional Democrats

In addition to capping insulin out-of-pocket costs at $35 per month, provisions in the bill would have given Medicare the ability to negotiate some drug prices starting in 2023 with price caps beginning 2025, and capped out-of-pocket expenses at $2,000.

Manchin stifled hope Biden’s legislative agenda could pass in December when he announced he wouldn’t support the bill as written.

During his State of the Union address Monday, Biden said “building a better America” and fighting rising inflation are one and the same. 

Part of the efforts to lower costs experienced from rising inflation is for Congress to take up the fight of reducing prescription drug costs, he said, specifically calling out the need to lower the price of insulin. 

“Insulin costs about $10 a vial to make,” Biden said. Yet, Biden continued, drug companies charge “up to 30 times that amount.” 

During the speech, he referenced 13-year-old Virginian Joshua Davis, whose family has to pay exorbitant amounts for insulin each month.

“Imagine what it’s like to look at your child who needs insulin to stay healthy and have no idea how in God’s name you’re going to be able to pay for it,” Biden said. “I really mean it. Think about that. That’s what I think about.”

Local organizers who have been pushing for federal action on prescription drug costs took note of Biden’s call to pass legislation to deal with prices. 

“Americans and Nevadans still pay way too much for prescription drugs, so it was encouraging to hear Biden reiterate the urgent need to cap insulin costs and allow the government to negotiate drug prices directly with drug companies,” said Annette Magnus, executive director of Battle Born Progress. 

While there are no guarantees federal efforts to address drug pricing or cap insulin rates will be successful – according to Politico, Manchin seems open to include reforms to prescription drug prices – Nevada this week also moved forward in efforts the state says will reduce costs. 

On Monday, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced the state will join the Northwest Prescription Drug Consortium, which is operated by Oregon and Washington.

In a statement, officials said the program could save consumers up to 80% on generic drugs and 20% on name brand drugs. 

“The Consortium is pleased that Nevada will be joining us for our Prescription Drug Discount Card Program services through ArrayRx Card,” said Operations Manager Heidi Murphy. “The ArrayRx Card program, soon to be available for Nevadans, will provide enrolled residents with savings on their prescription medications. The card can be used at locations nationwide.”

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues.